Eating on a Recommendation

While in Montreal, Teena and I decided to eat one night at a place recommended by Anthony Bourdain. That place? The simply if not comically named Joe Beef. Despite everything I read online about needing to make reservations a month ahead of time, we were able to get Saturday night reservations calling just the night prior. The restaurant itself is located outside of downtown Montreal on Rue Notre-Dame West. It appeared to be a one block oasis of dining and entertainment set amongst homes and apartments. For us, it was a perfect 25 minute walk from our hotel, but could definitely be longer depending on where you were staying in Montreal, so a cab (or Über) may be necessary.

We actually arrived a bit early and our table was also ready somewhat early from our designated reservation time. One immediately notices how warm, cozy, and intimate the establishment is, especially in regards to the table next to you. The menu, wine list, and drink list is written on a chalkboard in French and difficult to read in the dim lighting. Not to worry as the wait staff have the menu pretty much memorized. I can see how some may not like the atmosphere. It could be considered claustrophobic and you can’t help but hear img_0580your neighboring diner’s conversation. If you are one who likes your dining establishments somewhat standard, this may not be the place for you. I know my father would be irritated and might lend to the concept of the “rude American”.  I started off with the Oysters. They had a selection of three kinds from various Canadian locals. Unfortunately, other than the one’s from Prince Edward Island, I don’t remember where the other two were from. I opted for a half dozen equally divided amongst the three. All fantastic. Admittedly, I’ve been on an oyster kick since my initiation to them almost a year ago in Vancouver. I also guess it’s hard to mess up oysters unless you let them sit for days in the heat before serving them.

My main entree was related to me by our waitress as a “beef brisket” and in actuality it was more in line with a beef burgundy. I wish I could say I liked it as much as my oysters. I found the beef to vary between dry and less dry. The vegetables were good and would have been even better if the stock was not so bland. Overall, I felt let down by the entree.

Their wine list is extensive and I have to commend them on this. You could find any type of wine to pair well with your meal and even wines to pair with contrasting meals as Teena had a white fish entree. As we were both in the mood for a red, the 2014 Christopher Pacalet Chenas was a nice, light beaujolais that complimented both our meals well.

In summary the staff, oysters, and wine are great and the atmosphere is dependent on the diner’s tastes. As for the entrees, to be fair since I’ve only dined there once, I’ll say are hit or miss. While I’m an avid fan of Anthony Bourdain, I have to admit, I was expecting to be blown away by this meal and I just wasn’t.

Montreal, Quebec, Canada

Montreal had been one of the cities on our wish list, so when my girlfriend Teena (an avid runner) saw that they were hosting the Rock & Roll Marathon, we couldn’t say no. After a lengthy and comfortable train ride up (more on that in another post), we had arrived. Overall the weather in late September was perfect for me. Sunny, blue skies, with a bit of chilly breeze. However once you get moving and in the Sun, it warms up enough. We had a late dinner at the Bier Markt. While it certainly had the appearance of a chain, they have a great beer and food selection. We were advised by our waiter to use use Rue Sherbrooke and Boul Saint Laurent, which intersect each other, as reference points for the city. He further mentioned that some like to walk the four kilometer stretch of Saint Laurent which goes through all the ethnic sections of the city, to sample food from the various restaurants. Should we want something closer to our hotel, he also recommended Rue Crescent.

We set out on our first full day (day 2) and after using our respective map apps, it appears most of the places we wanted to go were within a half hour walk. As cities go, it wasn’t too unique. Appearance wise, aside from the traffic signs in French, it looks like most small cities we’ve all been to. The people are very nice and even though we heard a great deal of French, as we did on our recent trip to France, provided to you make the attempt to speak their language, most were more than happy to converse in English once they realized it was our primary language. We spent that first day pretty much walking around the downtown area getting acclimated to our surroundings, eating, drinking, and picking up Teena’s race packet. We quickly deduced that if you like to shop, the portion of Rue Sainte-Catherine near Mont Royal, is where to go. Great Dr. Martin’s store there, but I decided not to partake in an new pair. While we did not do the four kilometers of Boul Saint-Laurent, we did wander over to Rue Crescent and glad we did. After checking our several bill of fares, we happened upon L’Autre Saison which turned out to be the happiest of accidents (more on this in a separate entry). Post dinner, we walked back down img_0584Crescent in the direction of our hotel for a mini bar crawl. OK, two bars. Being forty three years old, I can’t bar crawl like I used to. First we hit Ziggy’s, a small bar located underneath another establishment. Definitely a local watering hole dedicate to all things related to The Montreal Canadians down to the seats from the old Montreal Forum. Of the many conversations taking place there, none involved us. They gladly took our money for in exchange for our drinks, but I got the feeling we were the foreigners… because we were. Next stop was Brutopia. This was definitely more my speed. A multi level bar with live local music and their own brewed on site beer selection. The band was good, the beer was good, and the patrons next to us more friendly and talkative.

Our next full day was spent walking… a lot. Another recommendation from our waiter on the first night was Mont Royal. Noted to be the remnants of an extinct volcano it sits among the city a short walk northwest of Rue Sherbrooke. It really is a great part of the city. It has multiple winding trails that lead up to the summit and chalet which overlooks the downtown area.img_0563

The residents are luck to have it as it provides a break from the concrete city and offers a source of exercise whether it be walking/hiking, running, or cycling. The official high point is listed at 233 meters / 764ft. It has a mix of dirt trails and packed gravel with stairs in some areas. Great exercise and great view from the chalet. The one downer is the summit is rather anticlimactic as it has a cell tower. Afterwards we awarded ourselves with poutine and more beer at Les 3 Brasseurs (another chain from appearances) followed by a nap. img_0572Poutine which is basically fries, cheese curd, and a beef gravy sometimes with meat or other ingredients is a staple in Canada as it was for us on the trip. It’s classic comfort food that rivals anything you’ve had here in the states. After our nap, we head out to dinner. We decided to try an Anthony Bourdain recommendation, Joe Beef (likewise, more in a separate post). Despite reading one had to reserve a table a month in advance, we were actually able to get in. It was located in a more residential area and across from the beautifully renovated (at least exteriorly) Théâtre Corona, currently being used as a music venue. Definitely something that looks worth checking out even though we did not have the opportunity.

Day 4 was the day of the marathon. As such, I slept in for bit while Teena was running. I then availed myself the public bike share. It’s pretty easy to use, credit card only. The bike I got was in decent shape unless you take into account the balding tires and less than useful breaks. It was a beautiful day for img_0585a ride made only more picturesque by the man urinating in public on my way to Parc La Fontaine where the marathon was ending. I have to say, I wished the marathon was a bit better organized from a spectator standpoint. Most of the security people could not give me any information as I asked them questions about where the nearest bike share was so I could return it or where the finish line was. What info I got was not that accurate. Finally, once I got to the finish line, I was separate from it by about 30 feet by a fence. It was disappointed as I could not watch Teena cross the finish line or get a picture. It was equally difficult to find her afterwards as the fencing went around for quite some distance. Regardless, we found each other, took the Metro back to the hotel, had our final meal back at the Bier Market, and fell asleep quite early. Out trip near the end as we were headed back home the next day.

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My stellar view of the finish line

Overall, I greatly enjoyed Montreal for the food, libations, people, and how favorable they are to walking and biking. Again the city is like most cities with the exception of significant hills here and there though not quite as steep as San Francisco. It has its share of graffiti but the parking kiosks seem to be more the target than buildings. Another negative was our hotel, Hotel Espresso. While conveniently located, our room was meh. The hardwood floor was coming up, the bathroom plumbing was not well installed resulting in a leak from around the toilet base, and our key cards had to be recoded at least four times. Additionally, there seemed to always be large groups of people in the lobby that did not appear to be staying there (i.e. no luggage). We weren’t sure if it was due to the restaurant, the casino listed as being part of the hotel, or the fact that we were across from the police station.

Overall, I would definitely say check it out if you have the chance but don’t move it to the top of your list.